Saturday, August 24, 2013

Papers, Please First Person Review

An elderly woman limped into my office on a wooden cane. Like the others shuffling impatiently outside the grimy windows of the immigration office, she needed into the country. Unlike the others, she wasn't just visiting. She was coming home.  She sunk into the cold steel chair in front of the office window and shuffled through her only noticeable belonging; a small, faded, emerald green purse.

"Papers please" I said disinterestedly as I checked my watch. The dusty hands audibly creaked as they announced five o'clock. Just one hour and I need three more. Come on lady, hurry up. I witnessed her frustration as it wrote itself into her wrinkles and refracted in the lenses of cracked bifocals. I was about to send her away when a smile fluttered across her frail, delicate cheeks. She reminded me of my mother.

"Here you are." she said, sliding her passport and identification card through the small slot in the office window. "This is all I need right?" I nodded and quickly set to work comparing her information and checking it with the updated regulations guidebook. This was only my first week so I was still learning the ropes, but because of a recent terrorist attack outside the office, the new regulations were being compounded almost daily. So far so good; date of birth, correct; expiration date is good; everything seems to be in order. But just as I was about to stamp her papers for approval a small detail caught my eye.

"My son is sick you see..." she droned. Most people think that if they tell me their story, I'll let them through based on that alone. But if you listen to every single one, your mirror will start to look down on you. So you build a mental barrier and they become just voices in a crowd. "I left the country before the war to visit family." The war had separated a lot of families, she's not so special I tell myself. "Only about a week to live."  The familiar sound of tissues scraping against wet cheeks. I haven't seen my mom in years.

You can't let this one go. One more violation and I would have been taken away in chains by the Arstotzan security forces and my family would be thrown onto the street. This week it was food instead of heat, next week it'll be heat instead of food. What if my son gets sick? It'll be medicine instead of anything. After taking a long hollow breath, I stamped her papers in the negative, and handed them back. My eyes stuck in the cracks of my rotten desk, ashamed.

“I'm sorry, but you're gender is listed as Male instead of Female on your I.D. card. You'll have to get a new one." What life she had drained from her papery skin, shaking uncontrollably, as she tightly gripped the emerald green purse. Maybe she'll start shouting and I'll be able to detain her, that'll earn me a few extra bucks from the guards. My family will be fine for the next week. God I fucking hate myself.

"But, it's just a small mistake. Can’t you let me through? I have to see my son!" The guards outside the office winked and gripped the handles of their automatic weapons. My conscience has got me by the throat.  "It'll take me about a month to get another identification card." 

“I wish I could let you through, but I’ll be taken away if I let you pass and the security forces find out. My family could lose everything.” At that notion her figure seemed to resign itself to fate. Her mouth just hung in the air for minutes, staring past me, or through me, I couldn't be sure.  Her eyes stole my thoughts as she gripped her cane in one tiny weak hand.

The cane crashed against the window as she pleaded "It'll be too late by then. I have to see him now.” In those gentle eyes I could see that she couldn't stop herself anymore than I could stop myself. I saw a child dying without his mother there to comfort him. I hate my job. The security forces rushed into the office and bashed the butts of their rifles into her glass skull. I could taste the rusty copper as it trickled down her temple and lost itself in the stains on the floor. Who am I?

“Thanks, another one and we’ll both get that bonus I was talking about.” The officer chuckled,  a grin stitched into his cheek. The thought of money made me sick, but at least my boy would be fine for one more day.

After the officers carried away the disabled woman,  a man heavy in shadows glided up to the window and slid a black, square envelope through the gap.

“The time is coming for a revolution friend.”

If you'd like to purchase Papers, Please check out the link.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

GTA Multiplayer Trailer Released! (The world needs new pants)

I'll make no effort to hide my excitement towards the upcoming open-world adventure GTAV. I was a huge fan of GTA IV'smore focused narrative , but the lack of anything else to occupy your time left me wanting. Thankfully, Rockstar seems committed to addressing those concerns and giving us the GTA that fans want while retaining the complex narrative that made the fourth installment so compelling. After today's multiplayer trailer, my anticipation has hit the fucking roof.

The multiplayer portion of GTAIV is called GTA Online. The trailer shows off the expected assortment of explosions and gang related violence, but the overall theme seems to be “Everything Together.” Rob banks together, play tennis together, scuba dive together, whatever you can think of together.

The other bit that I love is the ability to create your own story. Progression is measured by what you want to do, not what the developers want you to do. Buy an apartment for your buds to hang out at. Buy a car lot and fill it with personalized vehicles. Base jump with all 16 other players. It's all up to you.

By separating the multiplayer portion from the single-player, Rockstar will also be able to give players new content on the fly. Hopefully, like GTA IV, the question of content will be non existent. It'll be nice to have something to enjoy while waiting for the Xbox One and PS4 to iron their wrinkles.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Crystal Challenge: Final Fantasy I

The original Final Fantasy was released in 1987 by a little company known as Square, now SquareEnix. The story goes that the game was a last ditch effort by the studio to make something worthwhile, giving it the title Final Fantasy to symbolize their struggle; this was their last chance. After the critical success of FF in Japan it eventually made its way to the states in 1990. Since then, versions have been released for dozens of different consoles and systems, including the PlayStation 1, Game Boy Advance, and PSP.

The version I played was part of the Dawn of Souls collection for the Game Boy Advance put out in 2004. It features refined graphics, game play tweaks both small and large, and four additional dungeons. Even with these changes, structurally, it is a nearly identical port of the original.

Examining FF with contemporary eyes causes many core mechanics that were once called revolutionary, appear stale and generic in comparison. Only by adjusting your vision to those of a gamer in the 80's do the traits that made FF so special come out. The random battles, now a staple of the JRPG Genre, are addicting. Every few steps you take, with exception to a handful of areas, triggers a battle in which you and the enemy take turns trading blows. In order to succeed, you have to use your enemies weaknesses to do the most damage. This type of system would later be copied and tweaked by JRPG's for dozens of years to come.

Although the battle system was admittedly brilliant for its time, this version has a few tweaks that work against it, creating a rather dull experience. The original title was, supposedly, a very brutal experience that forced you into grinding for both experience and gold often in order to progress. Boss's also required your full attention rather than the passive experience Dawn of Souls can be. It takes you no time to gain levels, stuff your wallets with gold, and access all the latest equipment available to your party.

Enemies have been dumbed down to the point that mental participation is entirely optional. Near an Endgame location I lost about 15 minutes just wandering around an area and spamming the attack option, regardless of character class. I wasn't even looking at the screen. The difficulty turns a game that could be a challenging, active experience into something dull and lifeless. At least boss's are there to keep you on your toes from time to time during the 12-15 hour story.

Speaking of the story, there isn't one, not really. After picking the classes of your four party members and naming them, you’re dropped into the world to figure it out as you go. Dialogue is of the “Go here, do this” variety, usually leading you to a dungeon with a treasure to find. One aspect that I wish SquareEnix would have changed is the lack of direction. Normally, it's not too difficult to find out where you need to be, but every now and then you have to find a specific person in a specific town that you haven't even been to yet that will then tell you where you need to go.

It's funny that my favorite part was a twist, turning the entire adventure on it's head, right at the endgame. I’m not going to spoil it save that, for it’s time, it’s genius. I have a feeling that, had the devs been able to flesh out the story for the remake, they could have had something really special on their hands when reintroducing this title to the world. Hardcore fans might disapprove, but nothing is ever perfect; everything can be improved.

As a whole, there are just as many parts that I like as there are that I don't. This is probably going to be the case with the first few titles in the series before it finally hits its stride. What this title has going for it is the fact that when it came out, it did revolutionize the RPG. Now it’s place is as a reminder of where it came from with hints of where it was going. It wouldn't take long for the potential that the devs showed for narrative to pay off. I would recommend the Dawn of Souls version to newcomers to FF and the JRPG genre, if only for the history lesson that it provides. In today’s market it’s not amazing, it’s not bad, it’s just okay.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Crystal Challenge: The Heroes of Light Awaken

I've been “gaming” since three, when my father taught my brother and I how to use the Commodore 64 (C64). According to my parents, by a few months, It was second nature to my still developing brain. By modern technology standards, the C64 is a dinosaur; but in 1989 it was considered a decent piece of hardware. It also played some sweet games like Defender of The Crown, Lode Runner, and Zak McKraken. Adventure games were my first love, one that has yet to die, especially considering the recent splurge of Adventure Games on the market.
As I child I owned and/or played every system without regard to what constituted a 'good game.' As long as the graphics were colorful and you could jump, I was content. Mario and Sonic were my favorites, but I did have a pretty solid spot for both Flashback and Out of This World. I'm still patiently waiting for a proper reintroduction of the Platform genre to home consoles.
Despite my love of jumping, it wasn't until the original PlayStation console (PS1) that my gaming habits turned from small time hobby to full-blown past time. The only problem was that, after surviving Resident Evil and bouncing around with Crash, nothing was grabbing me like I needed it to. There was a desire for something deeper and more complex than zombies or anthropomorphic bandicoots. Then one day, a bastard friend brought over his PS1 and a game that would both establish and forever cement my love for the Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG).
That night, without a memory card, because neither of our parents understood that you needed one, I had one of the most enthralling adventures of my gaming career. I leaped off a train, bumped into a mysterious flower carrying stranger, and climbed the foreboding Shinra Tower. The next morning I imagine my parents found me passed out on the floor with a wet towel to wipe the gross amount of sweat from my hands. The next thing I knew, I had a PS1 of my own, a memory card, and a habit that has since influenced my choice of career. Final Fantasy VII was the spark I had been waiting for.
Since then I've taken part in every numbered adventure in the FF series. As I've gotten older emulators helped when physical copies were impossible to find or when money was an issue. Despite playing them all, I've never completed a single one; The challenge was, apparently, too much for me at the time. This is why I'm taking part in a self-created challenge dubbed “The Crystal Challenge.” The goal: Complete every numbered game in the Franchise, excluding spin-offs and Massively Multiplayer RPG's (MMO's).
Along with each play through, I'll provide impressions of each title, referencing what makes them unique among the entire series as well as if they've managed to stand against the sands of time. In doing so I hope to educate gamer's unfamiliar with a franchise that arguably gave the genre the publicity it rightfully deserved. 
I've already managed to finish off the original via Dawn of Souls for the Game Boy Advance. I realize it's not the genuine article, but at this point it's all I've got. You can't even find a ROM of the thing. Once I do somehow get it, I'll replay it as well as FFII for a more authentic experience. 
I’m not playing them in any particular order, which is why I've already started playing 12. It was the last one I bought and one I’m particularly fond of because of it’s political story that didn't revolve around saving the world from ruin, for once. Check back later for some impressions on my Final Fantasy 1 Experience. 
While we are on the subject of JRPG’s, what’s your favorite? Do you have an opinion about Final Fantasy? Which one do you like the most? The least?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Microsoft: Who's The Xbone Now?

     So just the other day petitions began appearing online for a return of the DRM that Microsoft just recently rescinded for the Xbox One or “Xbone” as the internet has taken to calling it. So, what the hell is going on here? Are these Xbox super fans? Or educated consumers that understand that sometimes progress requires sacrifice.

     Whatever they are you have to hand it to Microsoft, they sure know how to twist a knife. After unleashing the bad news, their atrocious DRM scheme, to the world and subsequently hitting the undo button on their corporate processor, they tell us about all the good. Of course, many of these plans could have vanished or been pushed back until years after the consoles release. We may never know.

     Although you would've needed an active internet connection to access most of your content before being locked out, a strategy not entirely dissimilar to Steam’s own DRM, the plus of being able to access your content anywhere at anytime was beautiful. How many times have you wanted to show your friend a new game and then forgot the disk? With this plan you wouldn't have to worry about your disks at all. You would simply log in and have instant access to your entire game library.

Why is it okay for Steam to have nearly identical DRM policies and not the Xbox?

     The family plan would allow family members (or friends you flag as family) to access your content from any console that they sign in on. This essentially means that, while you wouldn't be able to all play the same game at the same time, any game that you're friends buy, you could play as well.

     If your friend doesn't happen to be in your family and lives halfway across the country, swapping a disk with him would be a hassle that may involve the game getting lost in the mail. With this program however, you could simply give him the license to play the game from his console until such time as you want it back. How many times have you let someone borrow a game that you suddenly want to play, but wish you wouldn't have to wait for them to give it back?

     These are all brilliant ideas that, if executed properly, could have changed the entire idea of digital ownership as we know it. All of your data would be with you at all times, you could let your friends play your content digitally, and you could potentially sell the licenses much like you currently do when you trade a game at your local video game store.

     It’s hard to argue that in many ways the minus’s outweigh the possible gains, but one wonders if they had told us the good stuff before the bad, would events have turned out differently? Or was it Microsoft's plan all along to not share all the positive bullet points until the last minute, and then re-add the DRM policies at a later date when consumers have warmed to the idea?

Leave your own comments below. Are Microsoft’s policies crazy or are we being terrible consumers for not letting them take a chance?

As of this moment there are 14,065 signatures.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Video Game Review: Gunpoint

The rain beat down on the roof as if the fists of god were trying to warn them as a man in a dark brown coat skulked towards their three story office complex. His goal: Classified company Intel located on the top floor behind an electronically sealed door. Before entering the building the man booted up the high tech Crosslink software installed on his smartphone. Glowing trials wash over the screen, indicating various connections between electronic components. He rewired a nearby switch so that every light is extinguished in one elegant flick. The two lone guardsmen begin scouting and vainly flipping switches, attempting to access the issue.
Using his trademark super jumpy pants (can’t remember the actual name) he leaped to the ceiling and crept along like a spider (man). While ascending the elevator to the top floor, The spy used the Crosslink device to cause a light to switch off in a nearby room, which causes that guard to flip his own switch, which then activates the vault door. After retrieving the info, one of the guards managed to find his way into the room. He quickly leaped towards the guard before he could pull his pistol, throwing both out the window. After landing atop the lifeless corpse the spy then sprinted towards the safety of the subway.
Such is one of the more simple opening missions of Gunpoint, a game about deceiving the enemy into using their own tools against them. The game's Deus Ex Noir art style combines with deep but easy to learn gameplay mechanics in order to create an experience that is both as simple and as complex as the player would like it to be.
The name of the game is Creative Ingenuity (Actually it’s Gunpoint). Although every mission has essentially the same objective, the way in which you accomplish said objective is entirely up to you. Other than a few linear portions at the beginning and end, the entire game comes across as a side scrolling version of Dishonored or Deus Ex. You're even given the choice to use a gun, despite the overwhelming odds that are placed against you for pulling the trigger.
Although there are about a dozen upgrades available to you, they are the worst filled out aspect of the game, most of them feel as if they should have been open to you from the beginning. Once you get the Crosslink and gain the ability to rewire everything from doors to camera’s to electric outlets, you could potentially complete the entire campaign without purchasing anything other than the required components. One of the games biggest issues is that it poses almost no real challenge.
The ability to purchase a gun is interesting because, although the game is call Gunpoint, gun’s have been entirely outlawed. It’s also a last resort option that, when used, will begin a countdown timer as a sniper (the social ramifications for allowing government agencies to use firearms when normal people cannot is a topic I wish was discussed more) sets his sights on you. It can also be used to hold up guards and back them into tight corners.
As I stated before, the world is a mix of classic Noir and Deus Ex. The art style is simple by design, removing any extra clutter, leaving the player with an elegant and nearly invisible interface. That being said, other than the structure of the buildings themselves, the actual art never changes. You will always see the same skyline and the same shades of blue and grey. The music is a mix of unobtrusive electronica that adds to the overall cyberpunk aesthetic. Overall the presentation performs the job that it’s meant to by keeping you completely engaged. I have to admit, I do love a dude in a pixelated trenchcoats.
The story is also surprisingly compelling for being told primarily through text with zero spoken dialogue. I haven't played an indie action adventure this witty and interesting in a long while. The way the story wraps around several choices that you are allowed to make, a la Mass Effect and other choose your own adventure titles gives you another reason to give the game another go once it’s all over.
The bad news is that you can beat said story in around 3 hours. What gives it its legs is its replayability. Trying out different tactics, going for that perfect score, these are what Gunpoint is all about. The unique reward for completing the game in certain ways is exciting as well. If you’re not the person that likes playing a game more than once, it’s not for you. For others, 10 bucks is a stupid cheap price for such a well designed gem.
In the future, either through a patch or a feature implimented into the website itself, hopefully the creator decides to put together a portal for sharing user created content. It’ll be just the feature to put this title over the edge. I could see a community potentially thrive off of player created content for months, if not a year or two.  
Overall it's hard not to recommend gunpoint although end the end this is a title that leaves you wanting. You need more but there’s nothing left to give once you have seen the handful of ways the story can pan out. If you’re looking for more content past the unfortunately short story, hopefully you have friends that can create some for you, at least until a proper portal is established.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

More Dishonored On The Way


Bethesda recently announced via the official bethesda development blog that more content for the much lauded Dishonored is on the way. Arkane are planning on releasing three DLC packs, 2 of which are story based and will feature the player taking control of a different character in the Dishonored universe.

The first pack, which will release in December, has been dubbed the “Dunwall City Trials.” According to the blog it will feature 10 challenge maps that will “test and track your combat, stealth and mobility skills.” There will also be an arena battle mode that sound similar to the ‘horde’ mode that various other games employ which will most likely feature rounds of respawning enemies for the player to take down in any way they please.

This pack will run at $4.99 or 400 Microsoft Points, release simultaneously for the Xbox 360 and PS3, and contain additional achievements and trophies.

The second and third expansions will not release until 2013 with the earliest listed as spring. In the second expansion you will play as the leader of the supernatural assassins known as “The Whalers.” Duad will come with his own unique weapons and powers with his own choices that will effect the story in one way or another.

So how about it, are you ready for some more Dishonored?

More Dishonored Content On The Way (Bethblog)